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  •  I'm still fairly new to this Industry but one thing I'm trying to work on is documenting/annotating on what I did on a problem. At the end of the day, you're not going to know everything or remember everything, but if you a have a well-organized personal knowledge base in place (one for you to leave notes in and how-to's, in your own words, like a journal), I think it will make you more efficient. I also believe it will help organize the way you think and start to view problems, maybe even remember solutions from your notes. I know you can always go back to previous tickets and read through them and whatever documentation system your company has. Having your own personal KB or journal you can reference is really nice since you made it for you.  For me, I also try to have really organized bookmarks so that I can go back to really useful sites that's given me good documentation or instructions on how to do or explain something, like specific Microsoft KB pages. At work we have an intranet with a knowledgebase for our department and I remember posting some contributions only to realize that if someone else was to read it, it might not make as much sense or be a bit difficult to try and follow because we all have different strengths and weaknesses and understanding of the systems we work on, so it will also help you in that aspect of writing notes for others and understanding how you think vs someone else.

    Also, if you ever have to teach a new person, it can be really helpful. I know one of my co-workers sent me a bunch of his personal how-to word documents that had screen shots and step-by-step instructions, when I first started working here and until now, I still go back to them from time to time when I'm doing a task that I haven't done in a while. It's also a huge confidence booster knowing that if I do run into a problem, I will have a lot of resources I can go to before I have to ask for help. It's nice going through old notes and having a bunch of ah-ha moments, kind of like working with regedit and seeing some personal notes on where to go to find registries related to Microsoft office products or installed software and how when I first started, I would follow instructions line by line, but after doing it so many times I started to understand the big picture of things and could navigate something like regedit a lot more efficiently. I think you also start getting better at reading instructions related to what you need to do, because if it's something I'm familiar with, I usually skim my notes or related documentation knowing exactly what information I'm looking for.

    I too still have a lot to work on, although earlier today I took a moment to appreciate how much I've learned. Going back to something like Windows registries, I've recently taken an interest in PowerShell scripting, and I was recently reading some documentation on pulling registry values and couldn't help but appreciate how I had a better grasp of the logic in the script I was looking at, because I had become more familiar with Windows Registries, and understood the context of what and why it was being done that way. 

    Sorry for the rambling but I've recently been pretty appreciative of how much I've learned in the last couple of years. 

    Oh, and another great example for me would be Linux, I have bookmarks and a whole folder filled with notes and guides, explanation, cheat sheets on things I've done on Linux systems and since I go on binges of working on a Linux system for 1 or 2 months out of the year, I tend to get rusty when I jump back into that environment, but since I have notes to reference, it only takes me a day or so before I get caught up and familiarized with the environment.

    So, to answer your question, I think effective and organized personal note taking can help you be really efficient. Once again sorry for the rambling.

    Spice (10) flagReport
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  • If you don't know what commands do, look them up. That is how you get better. You need to constantly learn. If you're not constantly learning, you will be stuck doing the same things in the same or similar job. It will also be harder to get a job, because I can tell you that as a hiring manager at a pretty high performing organization, we're interested in people that can continue to grow. It's okay to be not that strong at all of the potentially desktop support situations if you have had only say 1-4 years experience. If you aren't awesome after ten years, you may have hit your limit. That's not a good place to be, unless you're ready to retire or have a career change.

    I have been in the industry one way or another for 30 years. I am constantly learning (and teaching). Being part of this community is part of the way I do that. Answering questions, learning from other answers, and also learning from questions.

    Spice (11) flagReport
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  • At some point troubleshooting hits its limit, and the best option then is to just save the user's data and reimage the system.  It's great that you're looking to improve your troubleshooting skills, but how much time are you willing to put into researching and attempting to resolve a problem?  If your organization has hundreds of systems and this problem has not been seen before, how likely is it that finding the fix will be useful in the future?  Those may be subjective questions, as opposed to the objective "here's the customer complaint, here's what we found to be the underlying problem(s), and here's the fix" that we all like to see.  I think refining your ability to answer questions like that is as important as the "hard" tech skills.

    I think you're on the right track in general for improving your skills - for the issue you relate it sounds like you've covered most if not all of the usual problem spots.  Over time you'll find certain sites you trust - make sure you bookmark those.  Find someone else in your organization, or a friend or family member, who seems to have that "sixth sense" for finding and fixing problems, and if you can, shadow them, learn the steps they take.

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  • blakeel wrote:

    So it got me thinking, how do i improve my skills? how do i take my troubleshooting to the next level so that I can effectively troubleshoot these type of issues?
    How do i get to a level that I can say "oh, i'll just hack this entry in the registry"...cuz i gotta be honest, i don't know jack about the registry....

    Say, "Hi, Jack. I'm Blake. Nice to meet you."

    Seriously. The way to improve and get to the point where you're at "it's probably in RegEdit" is to get experience with it. The way to get experience is to experiment and remember it. It's not just a matter of knowing what to do in any given situation but why.

    blakeel wrote:

    and a powershell command "dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth" (not sure what it does, but i ran it).

    So look it up. Learn what it does and why, so you can apply it more effectively in the future. Or better yet, understand when and why it's appropriate or not appropriate at any given point. For example, I had a technician decades ago where her default troubleshooting workflow always included defragging the hard drive.

    I could not get it to sink into her head that she was wasting both her and her end user's time by doing that because it was completely unnecessary. She just ingrained it in her mind that nothing else was helping so she might as well try that just in case.

    She didn't know what it did or why and more importantly, when and when not to use it. Nothing else was helping because she'd reached her own limit of understanding and capability.

    Spice (7) flagReport
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  • robertpowell wrote:

    At some point troubleshooting hits its limit, and the best option then is to just save the user's data and reimage the system.  It's great that you're looking to improve your troubleshooting skills, but how much time are you willing to put into researching and attempting to resolve a problem?  

    -This. I don't know how many times I wiped a machine and started over because it was simpler than trying to track down the cause. Where I'm at, one user was having a particular issue. This user doesn't have a complicated setup, so I kept saying wipe it and start over. Instead the other people refused and I had to keep digging into the issue. I was a little miffed at essentially being ignored but that's another rabbit hole.

    I don't know how to keep up your trouble shooting skills because I feel like it comes with experience. Maybe do things outside of work that involve critical thinking like puzzles or watching unsolved mysteries. 

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  • For the usb issue always try a port in the back of the pc, at least with usb ssd adapters they don't work in the front on some pcs

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  • kevinmhsieh wrote:

    Okay, how can you have been in the industry doing desktop support for any period of time and not know Jack about the registry? I think it has been around since every version of Windows NT, and every consumer OS since Windows 95.


    Oh, lay off him, man. I was doing tech work for years before I felt comfortable in the registry. When EVERY document throws huge warnings and tells you to back up the registry before doing anything, it's intimidating.
    In regards to the OP, I don't think you can power level your troubleshooting skills, it's one of those things that just takes time to improve. The more you do it, the better you get at it. 
    Even if you don't figure out this issue, you may come across something similar in the future and you'll take your experience and the new information and find a solution.
    Some other pointers:
    • Get really good at Googling
      • Coming up with efficient search terms
      • Sorting through results quickly to find relevant info
    • Troubleshooting is mostly a process of elimination
      • Most of the steps you'll take won't fix the problem but will rule out possible causes. 
    • Learn networking
      • Knowing the fundamentals of how computers talk to each other is something that benefits every position in IT
    Spice (19) flagReport
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  • blakeel wrote:

    So it got me thinking, how do i improve my skills? how do i take my troubleshooting to the next level so that I can effectively troubleshoot these type of issues?
    How do i get to a level that I can say "oh, i'll just hack this entry in the registry"...cuz i gotta be honest, i don't know jack about the registry....

    Any pointers appreciated.

    Get into the habit of auditing yourself.

    Every time a problem is solved, ask yourself a few things...

    •   How could I have arrived at the solution faster?
    •  What should I have known that would have helped?
    • What steps should I have done that were missed or delayed?

    Then take the big step of taking the answers to these and incorporating them into your problem solving for next time.

    Over time, your troubleshooting will improve.

    Spice (6) flagReport
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  • Same way you get to Carnegie Hall - practice.

    Google is your friend, at least when it comes to finding information. Learn as much as you can.

    The three most important life skills:

    1. Don't let someone else get you in trouble

    2. Learn how to separate good information from bad

    3. Don't waste your time, its the only thing you are born with

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  • experience seems to be the best key to troubleshooting. once you have spent time learning some issues, your skills will grow as you work on new things. there is no real pointer for gaining better troubleshooting, except for not being afraid to tackle something. the items that take the most time to resolve will always be embedded into your memory. Just my 2 cents here.

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  • Just want to echo the sentiment from almost everyone else- Google is your best friend in situations like this. I haven't been in the industry that long, but because I can use Google quickly and efficiently (most of the time), I was able to quickly get over my initial imposter-syndrome and establish myself as the "go-to guy".

    Don't stress, the fact that you're looking to improve speaks volumes to your future potential. And don't be surprised if Google spits you out back here on Spiceworks- there's a lot of knowledgeable people around these parts!

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  • I've only been working in IT professionally for 5 years, but I was hacking around in the registry when I was a kid with Windows XP and I learned you could change the start menu to say whatever you wanted. There were some fun calls with tech support with my mom after I changed it to "stop."

    With that said, I couldn't have known to change HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Common\Identity\EnableADAL and  HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\15.0\Common\Identity\Version in the registry to fix specific Office 365 login issues in Outlook that only affected certain users. I had to google that, as many people also did.

    I don't see anyone explaining specifically how to get experience in the registry because honestly I'd like to know that as well. In my experience I've never been able to just intuit registry solutions, but it seems to me that a skill like that would just take years and years of solving problems in the registry by googling until you have a good sense for where things are. If you wanted to make the taskbar buttons switch to the last active window, for example, I don't think you're going to figure out that you need to add a DWORD value in  HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced called LastActiveClick to do that without looking it up.

    End users think I'm a wizard when I hop on regedit, navigate to an extremely specific value, change it from 1 to 0, and suddenly their problems disappear. "How'd you get so good at this?" Well, I spent hours troubleshooting that problem once, now I can solve it hundreds of times in a matter of seconds. Of course I wouldn't say my one registry fix makes me "good at this," but do that for enough issues and you'll have a lot more confidence moving forward.

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  • Norriii wrote:

    For me, I also try to have really organized bookmarks so that I can go back to really useful sites that's given me good documentation or instructions on how to do or explain something, like specific Microsoft KB pages.


    This is very good advice and the only thing I'll add is I also print to PDF every site I bookmark because I've learned the hard way that it may not be there the next time you need it (looking at you TechNet). This also allows for easy attaching to an email, or opening on your phone when you are out in the field and just need a quick answer without dragging out your laptop.

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  • If you want to learn about the registry, the easiest way is to break it. Get a spare machine and take a backup of the entire registry. Then go and have a read about a particular key. Delete it, alter it, see what it does. If you totally screw things up just restore from your backup. Play about with Current user to start with, as that will only affect the account that is logged in. Once you are confident go and take a look at local machine

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  • I feel like troubleshooting weird desktop issues is always a trial by fire attempt, unless you can physically verify what the cause was.  Over 20 years experience and I'll still see something new.

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  • I usually start by gathering all the information I can about the issue on the system. Like you've already done by trying the removable media in another computer. I would also mention carrying around a linux usb bootable can come in handy by allowing you to determine if the issue is operating system agnostic. Also could be something in the bios that is blocking removable media? End user started digging around and thought it would be a good idea to keep other people from sticking things in their computer not realizing they wouldn't be able to either xD! After all that it's a google war or asking my peers what they think. A lot of times just talking through the issue with some one else can really help your thinking process.

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  • kevinmhsieh wrote:

    Okay, how can you have been in the industry doing desktop support for any period of time and not know Jack about the registry? I think it has been around since every version of Windows NT, and every consumer OS since Windows 95.

    To be entirely fair, I still approach the registry with a little trepidation. As the years go on, I've become less afraid of breaking something beyond repair but typically I can find the fix to an issue prior to needing to dig into the registry. As a result, I'm not very familiar with the registry either.

    To OP: The best teacher is definitely experience, and without echoing too much what other people have said, Google. But if you are looking specifically at how to refine your troubleshooting methodology, check out "How to Find a Wolf in Siberia." Easily one of the best books I have read for improving troubleshooting techniques. https://www.amazon.com/How-Find-Wolf-Siberia-Troubleshoot/dp/1720156409

    Hope this help, OP! Good Luck!

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  • Lots of good tips and information from users here already. All of which is pretty useful. I also recommend becoming a Google Ninja. Google obviously gives you access to an unlimited amount of information that you wont be able to memorize but should be able to use at your disposal if needed. A lot of the situations you may face in IT, someone has already dealt with the same exact thing or something very similar and they also may have documented it! If it isn't documented then its your turn to take a couple swings at solving the issue and then documenting it for others 👍

    As for learning registry, well that can be a little scary sometimes. It always best to try and test your work on a test bench first. Find an old or spare PC that you can use to test different installs, registry changes, etc. on so that if you make a mistake its fine. Like people have mentioned here, the quickest way to understand something is break it down, either on purpose or by mistake, and then fix it again. 

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  • Hey OP. Please take the feedback everyone has provided here with a grain of salt. 

    There may be some truth to their words and much of it has come from a place of experience. Such as just reimage the device. I consider this as a enterprise solution to many irregular or otherwise lengthy fixes. It will just be faster to reimage the device than it would be to go through a full uninstall reboot and reinstall of an office product in my own opinion. If working in a production environment if you have a device ready to swap. just swap out the device and reimage the troublemaker. 

    As for the registry edits. The issue here is that if you need to do this for one machine its likely a problem with your image or a problem with a recent windows update that will cause an issue with your image and the best fix would be to have the fix pushed out to everyone. 

    Now as for the expanding your troubleshooting. I can't stress this enough. If you don't have access to be able to support certain things then you can't be expected to support people effectively. For instance USB issues such as this can be prevented via security software. such as sophos and I believe even windows has incorporated a functionality for this. 

    Additionally, covering all the various basic areas when trying to isolate the root causes would be highly recommended.
    1. using the event viewer to see if we can get more information about event via the logs
    2. checking places such as the BIOS to see if mass storage devices have been disabled. 
    3. Ensuring firmware is up to date. 
    4. Checking the device manager to see if the USB component is just set to disabled instead of enabled.
    5. See if you logged into your own profile on the machine if it would work. It might be that their profile is corrupted or lacks security permissions.
    6. Check to see if a Windows Feature needs to be enabled within the control panel. Often times enabling the .net frameworks will help resolve a number of issues.

    Essentially when troubleshooting your aim is to narrow down the options of what the issue/problem might be. 

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  • You are already starting to be better at troubleshooting! 

    You are here and asking questions. 

    Look through the forums, read what people have had for issues and what has worked for them. Ask questions as you have them, and document everything. 

    If you want to get more hands on type, buy cheap systems from your local second hand store and take them apart and put them back together. Get it working as best as you can (not on your own network till you know they are safe) 

    Sell them when working and do it all over again. 

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  • I won't repeat what have already being said about experience and Google, 'cuz you know, it works !

    What I can add is for you to find a methodology you're already displaying. Yeah, turning off and on any device still solves many things. Then you try obvious things that are easy and not time consuming using the Pareto principle (we can argue about the truth behind that but it's just to get the idea) stating that 80% of effects are the result of 20% of causes. Try to exclude most probable causes.

    At some point, you'll need to decide if the time spent looking for a way to fix the issue is worth the pain. Let's say you put 6h on a couple of days, you find a solution even if you don't understand it, what good will you get from it if you can't use this knowledge elsewhere ? You could have made your diagnosis within 1h (including the easy actions) and within another hour set up a new computer (or new image on the current one). The end-user won't see how much time you spent on this issue and will just get frustrated for the lost productivity. If in the next days, you're faced with the same issues, maybe you'll have a good reason to invest time as many other end-user might face it.

    Yeah, it's effing hard to let go an unfixed issue as we are passionate professionals. Learning is the core of the IT and finding a solution after stumbling over it for hours is very rewarding. But by the end of the day, even a good manager will notice you didn't get you're priorities straight.

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  • It might be a cop-out to come up with a deep meaningful answer, but Lensflare​ says it:  "How'd you get so good at this?" Well, I spent hours troubleshooting that problem once, now I can solve it hundreds of times in a matter of seconds."

    Practice. Get out of your comfort zone and troubleshoot something you don't know how to do. YET. 

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  • kevinmhsieh is on the right path for several reasons:

    1.  You've been working in troubleshooting for several years yet you still have no technique or repeatable format for diagnosis.  Physicians use the SOAP method, subjective, objective, assessment, plan.  Pilots use a checklist.  You are just winging it.  One approach I used was the OSI 7 layer model, it gives you a repeatable checklist for diagnosis so you don't miss anything.  You went straight from layer 1 to layer 5 without verifying layer 1 was solved (physical layer).  If the rear USB works but not the front you might wonder why before hacking the registry.

    2.  You are in a production environment and your employer needs that production to write your paycheck.  You owe him some performance so that user can get back to work.  This is no longer an academic exercise, it's wasted time that costs the company revenue in lost production.  Reimage the machine and move on.  If you want to play, take a copy of the registry and install it on a pc at home (with your supervisor's permission).

    3.  Your troubleshooting skills have stagnated because you let them, then you came here to take the lazy way out of doing your job.

    4.  You are still in tier 1 because you have no ambition to get out of that rut.  Unless something changes that's where you'll be forever, and if I was your boss I wouldn't let it go much longer.  He also has departmental performance targets that must be met or he'll answer to his boss, and your name will be at the top of his list.

    Solution:  man up and take control.  Buy a book, take a class, do some reading at home, build a home lab, invest in yourself.  Reflect on what you've done to get into this predicament and what you've done to get out of it.  Ask your supervisor for honest criticism and take his advice.  Consider this to be a troubleshooting session of your own broken system and repair it.

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  • Are you trying to troubleshoot your troubleshooting skills?!?!?!??!

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  • How to improve troubleshooting skills is with practice. We all started out green and took years to hone our skills. Google did not exist when i started working on computers so it was trial and error. Take it apart and put back together over and over teaches you a faster/better way of doing something until it becomes second nature.

    Reg Hacking is a great skill but should not be the "go to" way to fix something unless you are comfortable with regedit in general. Besides getting a fix done it is best to know why the fix worked and if you do not understand registry entries then getting the why is very difficult. If you do not know why you changed a 0 to a 1 in the registry then you should not be in the registry until you know the difference.

    Knowing the "why" of a fix will also help you retain the fix for future use. For example, your USB is not working correctly and you went to the registry entry that denotes access and it was set to "0". The fix was to change that "0" to a "1". The "why " to this is because a "0" indicates that feature is turned off while changing it to a "1" makes it work because a "1" turns that feature on and makes the USB work properly. The next time you are troubleshooting something and it is not working or active and you are in the registry you will then be able to quickly see if it is set to a "0" you know the feature is off. Changing it to a "1" fixes the issue, because now you know that a "1" turns the feature on, and you are now a reg hacking guru in the eyes of the end user.

    We area all still learning, even after 30+ years of doing this. I can say for certainty that I SUCK at troubleshooting databases but I do pretty good with network, wireless and PC issues (others as well). There is way to much variety in the IT industry for someone to be great all everything. I recommend finding a field of IT you enjoy the most and focus on that, then expand to other fields if you start feeling stagnate in your knowledge.

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  • I saw the title and my first thought was to learn the registry lol. The key part is getting better is shortening your repair times. The quicker you can accurately repair something the faster you can put your attention to something else. The thing to focus on is your process. Each problem falls into a few categories. Mainly you have hardware and software issues. You also have a problem effecting one device, multiple devices, or the network that they interact with. Being able to gather all this information before you start the repair is the biggest part of being efficient. A chunk of this job is documentation and following this process. This is a science based job when you get higher up. As you test and test and test some more you start to narrow down the primary issue. Once you know the actual problem then you can focus on fixing it. If it's something you seem to be able to fix frequently, can it be automated. It's all about freeing up your time and using less "band-aids" during the day. Learning the registry really boosted my skill because now I could change settings without needing to find the utility or if the setting didn't exist within the overall GUI itself. So in a nutshell, create a repeatable process of testing before you fix.

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  • Curiosity and the ability/drive to learn are key. Identifying areas you are not too familiar with then determining what will be the most help to you in your current role and towards your career goal and focus on that, nobody knows everything.
    I think if you have the basic concept of how to troubleshoot the rest will come with time. Just make sure to take your time when troubleshooting, I have seen many people want to resolve the issue quick or get nervous that something is down and jump all over the place with solutions that don't make sense even to them when they are not on the spot.
    Here are some quick websites for registry:
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  • There is always a limit to what someone knows...especially in IT where there are always changes and updates and upgrades etc.

    One way to improve is using the spiceworks forum....

    1. Try to read, reply and solve as many issues you can. Even if some of your answers are wrong (some people can be rather rough when you post something wrong), just take in in your stride as part of the learning curve.

    2. Post some of the issues you face (even if solved) and compare the solutions and recommendations given. Sometimes there are a few methods to troubleshoot the same issue.

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  • When I see whacky stuff with devices like this, I usually tell a support tech to login as an admin, or local admin, and test again... If it works fine under that other account you likely have a user profile (registry/hive/user) issue.  You could try to diagnose it, but simpler is to just blast the profile (backup and restore important stuff back to the right folders of course).

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  • Spend some time on a regular basis reviewing logs, even when things are working well.

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  • What is the osi model? I'll take computers for 1000 RIP alex 
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  • A lot of good advice here. I would add that if you can find someone in your organization who is both methodical and thorough, as well as persistent (an often overlooked "skill" in problem solving) try and work with that person as much as possible. 

    Also, assume nothing, test everything. Especially when an end user or other technician tells you that they checked. 

    Another good technique is starting in safe mode with networking, then testing. This eliminates everything but the raw OS, including overly aggressive AV software. 

    Specific to your problem, I would have opened the Disk Management to see if a partition was being recognized and what kind of partition it was. If it didn't recognize a partition on one workstation but did on another, I suspect the bus or the drivers, or else some kind of AV issue. 

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  • There's always a process of elimination.

    There's not  a "right-way" technically as long as the solution is found and the (your) process is consistent, but that process(es) will continuously improve (should at least) through experience.

    It's hard to narrow down exact steps without a laundry list of exceptions, but in a general sense:

    0. Backup/ensure there's a backup before starting (bonus step if applicable)
    1. Help identify the issue by eliminating "obvious" problems
     a. this does not mean skipping anything, just start with the obvious e.x. Is the thing plugged into power/has power?
    2. Follow a general "it's not this", and never do the "it's that". Verify each process step before moving on ("It's not this, I've proved it, so go to next trouble-shooting step"). 
    3. Attune yourself to an Occam's razor ideal (i.e. least complex as possible; but be aware it doesn't mean it won't be complex).
    4. Document the ******* out of everything you did/do.

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  • The answer to your question is experience. Experience will allow you to answer a question right away.

    And also if you solved it yourself.

    There may be uncommon problems that you are stumped but as with anything, think outside the box and step back to see what the problem really is.

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  • Good Day Blakeel,
    I have felt this as well, a person that I would consider a mentor turned me on to a book.  I
    How to Find a Wolf in Siberia: or, How to Troubleshoot Almost Anything  by Don Jones
    It is, by far, the best  thing I have read to help with troubleshooting.  It helped me to learn the value of notes, notes and more notes.
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  • I don't know anyone that has committed the entire Windows registry to memory. 

    Having said that, 

    The key to long-term success is knowing what you don't know and being comfortable admitting it. Also not knowing all the answers however you know where to find them. Sounds like you're on the right path, you may try studying for a new Cert all Azure stuff is trending and CCNA never gets old as long as we still have a network. Just my Five cents, Best of Luck!!

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  • For overall troubleshooting mindset, this book could be useful.

    "How to Find a Wolf in Siberia"

    https://www.amazon.com/How-Find-Wolf-Siberia-Troubleshoot/dp/1720156409

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  • Improving troubleshooting and critical thinking skills isn't just about technology. Try fixing/improving many other things in your life such as your vehicle, your house, your relationship, etc. I've found great troubleshooting and critical thinking stretches across many domains in life, and one can drastically improve the other.

    More directly related to technology, troubleshooting without a guide "this is how to troubleshoot this piece of equipment" operator guide is something employers pay more for because it's very hard to teach something like that (if not impossible). It's like asking how to teach character, intuition, and integrity. They are all things you are typically raised with and observe in others over many years, not taught on the job in a professional setting.

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